The brand new route to a better world

Updated: January 20, 2015 5:17 AM

From instilling new value systems to creating self awareness, brands today are in pursuit of making better people out of consumers

A decade ago, a brand’s success in the market place was defined by the relevance it created in a consumer’s life. Then came the phase of defining a brand’s unique advantage, with every category making room for newer and newer players. Finally, today every brand’s agenda is to create an emotional attachment or bond to not just create consumers but advocates of a brand.

The result: Brands today embody the consumers and every step is to make the brand an integral part of their self image and to help represent who they are.

From instilling new value systems to creating self awareness, brands today are in pursuit of making better people out of consumers. Let’s take a closer look at how.

Rise of the real ‘I’: There was a time when brands would just show consumers the mirror of possibilities and how she could become a better or more desirable person with the brand as a catalyst. While this truth continues to be prevalent, there are categories that now instead of asking their consumers to try and become better, inspire them to be just themselves. These brands celebrate the individual’s currentness, nowness, imperfections, thus bringing to the fore the real person. What’s even more interesting is that categories such as beauty, fashion and beverages whose core comprises a fair degree of self projection and imagery are adopting the path of discovery of the real self, too.

A most recent and endearing example is that of Nescafe (remember the ad with a young man stammer his way into viewers’ hearts) that unabashedly celebrates and encourages the triumph of what the world believes is an inherent flaw, a self that evolves and isn’t defined by what the world thinks of him / her.

Relationship constructs no longer superficial
A change has also set in the way brands showcase relationships. We have seen brands embrace new world ideologies of live-in relationships, women’s empowerment, etc. The needle has now moved to the evolution of the thought process in the context of relationships. A higher degree of openness and acceptance define the world of personal relationships and this is increasingly being seen in brand communication. So we have a husband willingly staying at home to look after the baby so that his wife can manage her ‘working mother’ world as seen in the new Raymond ad or Bharat Matrimony’s view of a husband who doesn’t believe that his wife has to be present at the dinner table every night. Relationships are being approached with high degrees of self awareness (being true to the self and what I want) rather than just playing to the galleries. The narratives of brands in the context of social relationships are also changing. No longer are families defined by lineage or genetics; the inclusion and comfort of friends as lifelines are the biggest representation of that. Transparency and the courage to be yourself when the world outside expects you to don an image is the shift in this narrative across categories. Smirnoff’s latest campaign asking one to ‘Unfake It’ questions the need to seek social validation and project an image and redefines it to one where you don’t need an image at all. It has only one message – just bring yourself to the party!

Benefits are less quantifiable, more esoteric
Quantification or performance being the holy grail of advertising, a brand’s raison d’etre is defined by its ability to demonstrate its performance capabilities to tap into consumer needs and build relevance. In this cacophony of better and best are brands that have chosen to appropriate themselves to benefits that cannot be quantified. Coca-Cola urges you to spread happiness, Surf Excel encourages innocence in childhood, Classmate celebrates uniqueness in kids. These brands have transcended product deliveries to focus on creating a better world of the people and for people. The focus has shifted from the brands fulfilling a functional need to a need that will impact the way we evolve and change as people. By becoming more human, these brands embrace and encourage ‘people growth’ rather than just selling a pen, a bar of soap or a cola.

New value systems
Linked to brands becoming more humane is a whole new world of values that brands propagate. These values open a new way of thinking and being, especially in a culture that has been stubborn about its value systems, its rights and wrongs . Here are some new values that have made their way into brand DNAs.

1) Encouraging selflessness: Brands today have taken on larger platforms of inclusivity shunning the divides created by caste, class or race and encouraging people to think beyond themselves and do better for the world at large. Idea’s 3G campaign hit the spot when it portrayed the Internet as the right to true education of every individual despite one’s socio-economic background.
2) Give up old social conditioning: This is a pet favourite of brands to demonstrate that they are progressive, but it is valid nevertheless. There are some brands that genuinely go the full mile to bring about openness in the mind and heart versus just stating a progressive emotion. The Whisper ‘touch the pickle’ campaign was one such which went beyond the clichés of ‘un dino’ and urged society to be more open to giving up age-old irrelevant beliefs. Menstruation is nothing but a physiological phenomenon experienced by women. Period.
3) Finding a larger meaning to life: The new wave seems to bring with it the desire to find a purpose beyond the material, beyond the conventional.  Most youth brands echo this sentiment. The common codes being ‘go beyond clichés’, ‘be yourself’, ‘be someone’, ‘be stupid too but don’t be ordinary’. That has given birth to a new world
of validation, a validation from oneself. It is now cool to be seen as someone having a purpose
commonly couched as passion and youth brands today are a world full of passionate young discovering, trying, experimenting to find ‘it’.
4) Living in the now: Brands today embody this very strong consumer ideology of there being no better time than the present. Remember, ‘Oh yes Abhi!!’?

This chapter in brand building has led us to believe that brands today have chosen a new path to create empathy. From being conduits for improving your image to encouraging you to be yourself, from benchmarks of progress being evaluated by the external to creating a new benchmark of progress, from defining people by how much material wealth they have amassed to now encouraging them to lead a quality life, brands have traversed a long road. There are brands today that encourage people to journey inwards to find a better life.

By Kavita Kailas
The author is planning head, Rediffusion Y& R

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